“If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.” Those were the words of Taoiseach Brian Cowen speaking in Leinster House on June 1 of this year. He was referring to the previous days events when the Israeli regime launched a military attack in International waters on the Freedom Flotilla as it attempted to bring humanitarian aid to the besieged Palestinian population living in Gaza.
During the attack, Israel murdered nine human rights and humanitarian activists aboard the Mavi Marmara and seriously wounded scores more. The boats, one of which Challenger 1 was Irish, were all seized and those onboard including a number of Irish citizens were kidnapped and brought against their will to Israel. During their captivity, the Irish citizens, despite Cowen's 'warning' of 'serious consequences' had their passports taken, their property stolen and were assaulted by their captors.
|Israeli troops board the Mavi Marmara|
Later that same week Israel hijacked and seized another Irish boat the MV Rachel Corrie which was carrying a cargo including cement, medical equipment, toys, paper and school books for the people of Gaza. All on board were also kidnapped and forcibly brought to Israel and detained. This was in spite of pleas to the Israeli regime from the Dublin government for them not to do so and to allow the boat complete its journey to Gaza unhindered.
The massacre on the Mavi Marmara occurred three months ago today. So, what 'serious consequences' have Israel suffered at the hands of the government in Leinster House as a result of their acts of international piracy and war crimes.
Actually the answer is None. Despite the bluster of Cowen and Martin in the aftermath of the attack, they have failed to take ANY action against Israel whatsoever. Is it shameful? Absolutely. Surprising? Considering this government's record on Israel, not at all.
This administration has failed the Irish people by not standing up for its citizens rights as a result of the crimes committed by Israel against them. They have also failed Palestinians by refusing to punish Israel for their war crimes or help the Palestinian people achieve justice and freedom.
Despite calls from human rights groups and Palestinian supporters to support the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to expel the Israeli ambassador, shut down their Embassy and sever diplomatic relations with them, this administration have steadfastly refused to do so.
It should be remembered that this massacre was not some one-off aberration, but a continuation of Israel's behaviour as a serial human rights abuser and war criminal. It is also worth noting that the Dublin government does not deny Israel's criminal activity. Brian Cowen has said that Ireland's long standing position was that the blockade of Gaza was “immoral” while Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin has described Gaza as an “open prison”.
On November 5 2008, Minister Martin said that "the Government agrees with those who state that the effective isolation of Gaza constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law."
In March 2009 Minister Martin told the International Herald Tribune the blockade was 'medieval, inhumane and utterly unacceptable'. Speaking about his recent visit to Gaza he said: “Eighty percent of the population of Gaza now lives below the poverty line and UNRWA is encountering increasing levels of abject poverty where people basically do not have enough food, even with their meager food allocations, to live.........What I witnessed in Gaza, amidst all the rubble and devastation still so evident from last year’s conflict, was a population traumatized and reduced to poverty by an unjust and completely counterproductive blockade.”
In October 2009 the UN General Assembly endorsed the findings of Justice Richard Goldstone's report into war crimes committed during Israel's month long assault on Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009. The EU Parliament endorsed it on 10th March 2010.
Yet on 22nd March the EU Foreign Affairs Council, in spite of the Israeli War Crimes documented in the Goldstone Report, voted to enhance the EU/Israel Association agreement providing Israel with even more favourable trading conditions. Israel remains in flagrant breach of the conditions applying to this agreement, which specifically demands a commitment to the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
And in what can only be described as a slap in the face for the victims of Israel's crimes, the Dublin government announced in recent weeks that they are to proceed with a multi-million euro contract with Israeli weaponry company Elbrit.
Attempting to justify their decision to continue buying military equipment from Israel, Defence Minister Tony Killeen said: "The issue of boycotts or sanctions against Israel or the cancelling of contracts with specific Israeli companies is not something that the Irish government supports at this point in time."
Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin, speaking before a Leinster House Committee on European Affairs on June 22 this year said that he had been a “consistent critic of the blockade since I become Minister for Foreign Affairs two years ago on the basis that it is unjust, illegal, counterproductive and in nobody’s strategic interest.”
However, he then went on to reiterate his excuse for not taking action against Israel saying they were “trying to persuade Israel to change its policies. It is important for us in doing so to show Israelis that we are open to good relations with them, that we are not inherently hostile or negative, that we genuinely believe we have their best interests at heart. It is clear to me that our influence in Israel would be lessened and our voice weakened if we were to advocate - futilely, as I have pointed out - a policy of bans or boycotts.”
Leaving aside the fact that the Dublin government not just advocate, but support and impose sanctions and bans against quite a number of other countries as a result of their human rights abuses, just how successful has this policy of not punishing Israel been in terms of 'persuading Israel to change its policies?' How successful have they been in using this supposed 'influence' with Israel that they are so afraid to lose?
Quite clearly they have been a failure. The EU-Israel Association Agreement which commenced in 2000 has been defended by Minister Martin as part of that 'softly softly' approach in order to influence Israel towards complying with International Law and cease their human rights abuses. Yet despite awarding Israel such preferential treatment, Israel's violations of UN resolutions, breaching of International Law and committing of War Crimes has not lessened and has instead significantly increased.
Illegal settlements, the theft of Palestinian lands and resources and the construction of their Apartheid Wall which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has condemned as illegal, have all intensified since 2000. Restrictions placed on Gaza from 2001 transformed into a full blown illegal and inhumane siege in 2007. In 2006, Israel invaded both Gaza and Lebanon inflicting massive civilian casualties and committing countless war crimes.
At the end of 2008, they then launched what they called “Operation Cast Lead”, slaughtering more than 1400 people, more than 300 of whom were children in their month long assault on Gaza. And then most recently we have their act of International piracy hijacking boats, kidnapping and asaulting passengers and crew and murdering nine of the activists on board. Israel also remains in violation of more than 60 UN resolutions.
Quite clearly, contrary to Michael Martin's claim, his administration have absolutely no influence over the Israeli regime who continue to colonise the West Bank, maintain their inhumane siege of Gaza and deny the Palestinian people their right to freedom and justice. Indeed, just how little influence they had was obvious when Israel contemptuously ignored their pleas to not harm the kidnapped Irish citizens and to allow the MV Rachel Corrie proceed unhindered to Gaza.
The issue at hand is not about this administrations condemnation of Israel and its war crimes. They acknowledge the barbarity and illegality of Israel's actions. The issue is their failure to act on this condemnation of Israel, saying that sanctions and boycotts are wrong and counter productive, while at the same time supporting and enforcing sanctions against other countries, including sanctions on the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people. Once again, the Dublin Government and the EU have had their self proclaimed commitment to human rights exposed as completely bogus.
By refusing to take action against Israel and continuing to afford them favourable trade relations with the EU, the 26 county state and the EU are helping to bankroll the Israeli military machine making them complicit in their war crimes.
Condemnation and diplomacy have failed miserably. What is needed now is for a world-wide campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the zionist state similar to that which helped end South African Apartheid. In the coming weeks and months, let us all redouble our efforts towards this end and help to end the apartheid Israeli regime, bring Israeli war criminals to justice and secure freedom at last for the Palestinian people.
For more information on the BDS campaign and other Palestinian solidarity activities in Ireland click here